Friday, April 21, 2023

earth day climate poetry workshop

This post honors my dear friend V., currently in the hospital being treated for lymphoma+complications.  Please send a bolt of energy her way.

Greetings, poetry lovers and earth huggers! I know that poets come in all flavors, but honestly, is there a poet among us who is not dazzled by the daily marvels served up by our planet without any effort from ourselves? Simultaneously, is there a poet among us who is not touched by grief when we face the daily damage served upon our planet by our efforts to prosper, to profit?

Tomorrow at my congregation's annual retreat I'll conduct my annual poetry workshop, and it will be based on a book given to me by that dear friend V.  It is HERE: Poems for the Planet, edited by Elizabeth J. Coleman (Copper Canyon Press, 2019), and like me, you might have missed its glorious variety of work by living poets.  Part of its aim is to acknowledge our complicated emotions about our climate crisis through poetry. The entire collection emphasizes what W.H. Auden said about poetry:

“Poetry might be defined as the clear expression of mixed feelings.”

I'm pretty sure we all suffer from some overwhelm and paralysis about the situation despite knowing at some level that there is good news out there (go here to hear my minister talk about some of it in the context of RESISTANCE). Thankfully, this anthology also emphasizes what bell hooks said about art:

"The function of art is to do more than tell it like it is--it's to imagine what is possible."

So in my little workshop, we'll read and write together to find spiritual grounding and resilience for the work at hand and ahead.

We'll start with my recent poem "Between Chapters of BRAIDING SWEETGRASS," published recently in The Bezine--the mother of all mixed-emotions poems.  Then we'll read one poem each from four of the anthology's five sections.  Participants will read to self, then out loud if they choose; we'll discuss, keeping always in mind the uncomfortable power that rises out of our mixed wonder and grief, despair and righteous anger; and then do a little drafting before moving to the next poem.

  • Where You’d Want to Come From: “Naming the Field” -David Hart

  • The Gentle Light That Vanishes: “First Verse”-Tim Seibles

  • As If They’d Never Been: “The Weighing”- Jane Hirshfield 

  • Like You Are New to the World–”A Small Poem” - Vievee Francis

Three of these poets are new to me--always one of the attractions of an anthology to discover new voices and personalities, don't you agree?  This one has an extra bonus feature which follows this last poem in the book:

A Small Poem | Vievee Francis

         for Jen Chang and Martha 


                             From a morning without expectations a surprise,

a word unanticipated and meant. Rare

and jarring. Syllables moving one to tears

when the winter sky is a simple blue, and nothing

is there to impede the dailyness of things. But

the word grows from a note a hello a salutation

and plants itself like a spring dandelion seed that by

afternoon is full grown and blowing more seeds,

lightly, sweetly, a coloratura of delight, and I 

feel as if I were both the plucked and the child

plucking the stem and twirling.  How a single word

can set the world turning from one moment into

the next in startlement.

What follows this poem "to set the world startlement" is an entire Guide to Activism by the Union of Concerned Scientists!  It's a 30-page summary of actions we can take, from the simple and individual to the loud advocacy we can lead, that contribute to change.  

[Don't forget, too, that our money talks.  This week I heard a presentation from the author of this article about social impact investing for people and planet.]

Poetry can be a tool for navigating your feelings about our climate emergency and then getting on with our day, whether it’s a day of activism or a day of rest & process. So, I wish you a Mixed-Emotions Earth Day full of whatever you need to live by Jane Hirshfield's words:

"The world asks of us
only the strength we have and we give it.
Then it asks more, and we give it."

Thanks to our host Karen Edmisten for doing the honors today, and do take a moment to visit Issue 1.3 of The WHISPERshout Magazine featuring poetry by kids ages 4-12.


  1. I like your point right in the opening that poets are tightly tied to nature. I'm so glad you are teaching your workshop. I have a poem about climate change on my blog for this Poetry Friday. I want to and intend to write more about that topic.

  2. Heidi, what a great post! There are layers of student and teacher here...those that want to learn and those that can guide from experienced to expert level. I love the quotes you've tucked into this post. Bravo! Your workshop sounds wonderful. You bring the healing art of writing to so many people. You continue to inspire me. Now, I'm off to click back through the poets you mention above.

  3. This post speaks straight to my mixed-emotions heart.

  4. There are tiny moments when I feel I can relax, knowing that I am doing this, & that, & giving, then I read about another foul deed. Wishing you a good day with your congregation, Heidi. I'm sure they'll come away inspired by your words. Thanks for this rich post of poetry and saving our earth.

  5. Thank you, for what I knew would be a thoughtful/inspiring/challenging post over here this weekend. Lucky workshop participants - thanks for all the good you do in the world, art-wise, heart-wise, earth-wise....

  6. Sending that bolt of energy for V., Heidi. Love that Auden quote too. I'm sure the workshop was grand with you at the helm!

  7. Clear feelings that this workshop must have been extraordinary, Heidi. Thank you for the introduction to some new to me poets/poems. Sending light and love from across the world to V. :)

  8. You poem "Between Here" gives witness to our ever-struggle to learn. I've been reading Braiding Sweetgrass, too, sharing responses between chapters with one of my sons. I, too, have tried to adopt offering thanks, a blessing, searching for some reciprocal gift to offer - as I cut through the rocky desert beyond my fence to get to the pickleball courts (instead of taking the longer way around the block). There is so much in this post, Heidi - I have loaded your minister's sermon. I want to get a peek into what joy your WhisperShout students are spreading. And finish reading it before my dogs push me out the door as the sun rises. I will be back!

  9. "Is there a poet among us who is not dazzled by the daily marvels served up by our planet without any effort from ourselves?" I hope readers of poetry feel the same way, Heidi. Vievee's poem -- wow. I love that moment where the poet is both the dandelion and the child plucking the flower.

  10. Both of those mixed emotion poems are amazing, Heidi! Ruth,


Thanks for joining in the wild rumpus!